/w Nate Garnette of Skeletonwitch

Lisa Sanchez

​When a band has to replace a long-time singer, it can be the death knell for any group. However, Skeletonwitch, blackened thrash mavens from our very own Athens, Ohio, have made the transition work with the appointment of their new singer Adam Clemens and the release of their most recent EP, Apothic Gloom.
Skeletonwitch is headed out on tour with Iron Reagan at the end of September, but I got a chance to speak with guitarist Nate Garnette about the band’s recent line-up chance, Skeletonwitch’s new EP, and the art of beer.
Although adding Clemens, of Wolvhammer, meant a change for Skeletonwitch, Garnette assured me that the band’s writing process was mostly the same except guitarist Scott Hedrick took the lead on composing more of the songs than usual.
Garnette explained, “This time around our guitar player Scotty ended up writing quite a bit more than he normally does. We each wrote individually then showed it to each other and once we agreed it was worthy of being a song, we gave it to Adam (Clemens) and said, ‘Write some vocals to it.’”
Writing new lyrics wasn’t Clemens only Skeletonwitch trial, however. Garnette told me that when Clemens first came to hang out in Ohio with the band, they all went out to the bar and then things got a little heavy, WWE style. "Adam started elbow dropping me, but hugged me and started telling me I was his little peanut,” laughed Garnette. “We never hazed him, he hazed me!”
The writing process was like Clemens second initiation into the band. Garnette knew the vocalist could perform the old songs, but he wanted to see what he could do with some original lyrics. The results can be seen in Apothic Gloom and the pure ripping power of the new Skeletonwitch lineup.
New vocals aren’t the only thing that Apothic Gloom delivers. Considering Hedrick gravitates more toward the progressive side of metal, the EP digs deeper than some of Skeletonwitch’s previous recordings. The songs take a little more time to sink in, but they still have the bite that Skeletonwitch has cultivated over more than 10 years.
“I think Scotty has been chomping at the bit to write longer songs. I am a pretty straightforward, although I can and do write epic stuff, I like to dole out the sugar and Scotty likes to deliver bags of it to people,” Garnette joked. “This is the first time we’re really able to experiment a little bit more. I tell him, ‘You can’t give it away, you got to make them work for it,' but I think it works. Everything has gone perfectly. It’s gone the way it should.” I just love the imagery of Skeletonwitch handing out bag-fulls of sugar.
Garnette even does backing vocals on Apothic Gloom, which is the first time he’s ever done so for a Skeletonwitch release. However, the guitarist did tell me he has some singing experience from playing the legendary Halloween parties in Athens. Instead of impersonating Lemmy Kilmeister in a Motorhead cover band, now the seasoned guitarist is working with a microphone onstage for real.
Apothic Gloom has even climbed the Billboard Heatseeker charts in recent weeks. For an “extreme” metal band, that can be quite an achievement. After such a tumultuous time in the band’s career, Garnette took the rise as validation. "It feels good because you don’t know how people are going to…people think that singers are the band. We’ve had friends in our own hometown ask, ‘What are you going to do without Chance [Garnette}?’” Garnette shared.
Chance was the original singer for Skeletonwitch, and Nate’s brother, but he had to take a sabbatical in the last year. Skeletonwitch has been around for more than a decade, so when Garnette heard people tell him that Chance wrote all of the band’s material, the guitarist simply replied, “You’re mistaken. He wrote the lyrics." the guitarist continued, "There’s always going to be naysayers. There’s always going to be a 13-year-old in his mom’s basement calling us dicks. But, if you come out and see a show you’re either going to still be a dick or like it. It was great validation showing up on some charts and thinking you still got it.”
In addition to releasing Apothic Gloom, Skeletonwitch has been busy touring since the beginning of the year. The band played the Decibel Magazine Tour, just wrapped up their "No Sleep 'Til Vancouver" tour, and are gearing up for their headlining run with Iron Reagan this fall. Luckily for Cleveland, Skeletonwitch is playing Grog Shop on September 25 before the official tour kicks off.
Garnette shared that Skeletonwitch always enjoys playing “the big three” cities in Ohio, Columbus, Cleveland, and Athens, but the guitarist is a little sad that the band’s tour break is so short this year. “We’ve got a little break right now, but I wish it was longer only because I get fat on tour so now I’m going back on tour still fat,” Garnette quipped.
Instead of eating chicken and vegetables, the band now goes back to drinking 15 beers and eating pizza and whatever else they can get their hands on. But, that is the downfall of tour life. Although the band enjoys Ohio shows, hometown venues always come with their own pitfalls. Garnette shared, “…It’s always fun, but it’s really stressful too because everyone’s family comes out. It’s a tiny nightmare. It’s like a high school reunion, but with people you didn’t go to high school with and people who think they’re better friends with you than they are.”
Obviously, Skeletonwitch has a lot of old school fans still in Ohio. “We have always had a pretty big support group. The majority of fans and a lot of dudes we spent a lot of time with. We’ve met a lot of people and kind of established a rapport,” Garnette said.
However, due to the band’s member change in the last year, Garnette is still conscious of feedback from people who have been following the band for years. The guitarist shared, “The member change stuff is the most confusing part. Nothing has changed other than the singer and maybe just some past due creativity. It’s weird. But, I’ll take it. It makes me laugh now.”
In case there is any negativity surrounding Skeletonwitch’s evolution as a band, Garnette has a jovial reply, “We’re just four dudes that created and put out there in the stratosphere to judge. Do you feel better because I suck? Because I suck, that’s fair.” Garnette appears to be a man who can make light of almost any situation.
During the tour off season, Skeletonwitch still live in Ohio. Although this may not seem like the most artistic place for a musician, Garnette sums up Ohio’s appeal to him with a beer analogy I can get behind. “If I spend a month in Canada I’m ready to get to Ohio. If I spend a week in LA, I want to sit in the back of a pickup truck and drink some Miller Lite,” Garnette stated.
Surprisingly, Ohio isn’t always known as the birthplace for blackened thrash, but Garnette stated that music could be from anywhere due to the interests and the motivations of the people who make it. Garnette offered, “Black metal has been around for years. Ohio has been around for years. The internet has been around for years. Why wouldn’t it be from Ohio? Or fucking Iowa? It’s what you discover and what are your influences.”
Although Skeletonwitch has had some recent ups and downs, Garnette still prefers to think of the band as the Patrick Swayze in "Roadhouse," at least in the metal genre. The guitarist explained, “In 'Roadhouse' when Patrick Swayze takes over the Double Deuce, he says ‘If a guy calls you a motherfucker escort him to the door, but be nice.’ We’ve always been nice and try not to cause too much of a stink unless you’re totally getting fucked.”
I really just wanted to include that quote because I like to visualize Skeletonwitch in "Roadhouse." Go on, picture it, it’s great.
By the end of the interview, Garnette offered what he would say to people who hadn’t heard Skeletonwitch before, "We’re already doing good, we don’t need you!” he joked, but continued, “I’ll give a very generic answer, come out, drink beer, have a good time, give’r a shot.” I double checked with Garnette how to properly spell “give’r.”
Skeletonwitch recently released Apothic Gloom and they’re playing Grog Shop on September 25 with a few other awesome Ohio bands, Fuck You Pay Me and All Dinosaurs. Tickets are still available so buy them and check out all of Skeletonwitch’s stuff to keep the band swimming in beer and good times.